Hopewell Township approves first step for cannabis cultivation/manufacture facility

Hopewell Township Municipal Building (photo: M. Galioto)

At its December 6 meeting, the Hopewell Township Committee held a work session to hear a presentation by an applicant for a state cannabis cultivation and manufacturing license, then conducted regular business. 

The applicant, Rob Piasio, a principal with Stonehill Manufacturing, LLC, said that his company intends to purchase 147 Washington Crossing-Pennington Road, known as the Hoch Farm, to develop a cannabis cultivation and manufacturing facility. The property has been for sale for many years. The presentation graphics are here.

Piasio, who said he formerly worked on Wall Street, told the Committee that he left finance several years ago to pursue the cannabis industry full time. He said that he looks forward to submitting his firm’s application to the State (click here for MercerMe’s reporting on the state approval process) on December 15, which will mark the culmination of two years of work finding a property and setting up a plan. As part of the application, the company is required to obtain the endorsement of the Township governing body.

Piasio noted that he is a Township resident and wants his facility to be a good neighbor: “We are residents – we shop at PQM and go to Cream King and buy farm products at Rosedale Mills. It is critically important to us that we are good neighbors and good members of the community.” 

The property under contract is at the corner of Washington Crossing – Pennington Road and Scotch Road, directly across the street from the Township municipal building. Piasio explained that the choice of location was “deliberate.” 

“By being close to the local police station,” he said, “we will have constant communication with the police and that will help with any potential law enforcement issues.”

The site contains 135 acres, but Piasio said Stonehill’s facilities will cover only about 5 acres. “Why do we need 135 acres?”  he asked rhetorically, answering: “the town has wisely adopted some of the strictest ordinances in the country to protect the town from nuisance. We intend to comply, and in many ways, exceed their requirements.  One of those is providing adequate space to contain nuisance by creating a huge buffer.”

He explained that the facility will not be a regular farm, either. Cannabis production, which requires an extremely controlled environment has moved into the realm of high tech. Plants are grown in climate-controlled bays in individual pods. Growing materials are shipped in and waste is shipped out. Water will come from roof-top rain collection; all water used in cannabis production will be removed from the site. Solar panels will hold seven days’ worth of power.

During the public session, neighbors expressed concerns about noise, light, odor, traffic, and pollen contamination. Piasio and Stonehill’s consultant Nic Easley, addressed the concerns as follows:

After some of the site’s nearby neighbors expressed concerns about generators, Pisaio said that there may be the use of some generator noise during construction, but once the facility is built, there will be no noise unless there is a widespread power failure during which generators would be used.

Piasio said that there will be no light pollution, explaining that when the plants are young and are exposed to continuous light, it is completely indoor, and no light can escape from the building. As the plants mature, they are moved out to the greenhouse area to flower and as part of that process, they are deprived of light for 12 hours per day, so there will be no light emanating from the greenhouses at night.

Regarding odor control, Piasio said that controlling odor is simply a matter of engineering and cost and therefore “completely doable.” Stonehill has committed to using an advanced carbon filtration system that will eliminate odor from the community entirely.  “As a resident and community member it is high on my list to contain odor,” he stated. He added that the facility they are planning is very different to those that have been retrofitted from big box stores, as in Readington. He said it is nearly impossible to control odor in a retrofitted building, which is why Stonehill is building a state-of-the-art building with a $10 million air filtration system.

The traffic plan will be addressed after (and if) State permission is granted. Piasio said that the company is assembling its submission to the planning and zoning boards, which will include a full traffic study. Easley stated that, in terms of what to expect, typically for a cultivation facility of five acres, depending on time of year, there will be 60 to 70 cultivation jobs in two shifts. For the total of cultivation employees plus the manufacturing and administrative employees: he said he does not anticipate more than 100 full-time employees over two shifts.

In terms of delivery traffic, Easley expects approximately two sprinter vans per week. He said that everything is in crates and boxes when it is delivered.  He added that part of the appeal of the site to Stonehill is the close proximity to Route 295 so that traffic will not affect local roads.

Deputy Mayor Courtney Peters-Manning asked whether pollen may be released into the neighborhood. Easley explained that cannabis is diecious – there are both male and female flowers; male flowers are required for pollination. Stonehill will produce only unpollinated female flowers. “We are not breeders – there are no boys,” he said. He further explained that even breeders maintain extremely tight control on the spread of pollen in their facilities, which are treated with UV filters that make any pollen that could possibly leak out unviable. The reason for this, he said, is that maintaining the purity of each strain of cannabis is essential to its ability to be marketed.

Other issues that came up during public comment included the future of the Hart-Hoch House, which Piasio said that they hope to donate to the Township. He said that the house needs some work but that it “should be something special.”  He also said that the company is considering donating 65 acres on the north end of the site to the Township for conservation.

In terms of next steps, Piasio said that when and if the State approves their application, they are required to receive full municipal (planning and zoning board) approvals in order to apply for cannabis board approval. Once all approvals are in place, he expects 10 – 15 months for construction.

Because the Township will be able to collect 2% of the company’s revenues, Committee member Kevin Kuchinski asked: “On the low end, what type of potential dollars are you looking to generate?” Easley said that he anticipated “nine figures” in revenue. 

“With New Jersey the only state that will have legal adult use recreation, we can anticipate this kind of business could be very significant.” Piasio explained that it has the potential to be “one of the largest ratables in town for a very low impact business. So we believe this is a sensible opportunity for the town.” 

The Township Committee voted to endorse the plan so that the company can move forward with its efforts to obtain State approval.

Other business that the Committee took up at the meeting included a Proclamation for Communities of Light, an annual program that Mayor Julie Blake said is used to “make sure families in distress feel safe.”  This year, Hopewell Township Police Lieutenant James Rosso was the honorary chair. You can read the proclamation here.

Committee member Michael Ruger commended the efforts of local Eagle Scout Jacob Thompson who constructed a sheltered area for restrooms at Woolsey Park.

In personnel matters, three new police officers were introduced: Michael Crincoli, Paul Alvaro, and Jonathan Pauciullo were all appointed as Patrol Officers. Additionally, James Hutzelmann was appointed as Director of Community Development, Zoning Officer and Township Engineer.

Lastly, the Committee approved a first reading of an ordinance to issue $650,000 in bonds to cover the cost of dredging Hiohela Pond.

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